Mario’s in, Jagr’s out.
Welcome to a unique NHL All-Star game. The 51st version of the midseason showcase features the unlikely return of stars such as Mario Lemieux, who came out of retirement about a month ago, Theo Fleury, and yes, even Dominik Hasek. However, it will be missing injured regulars Jaromir Jagr and Chris Pronger. An injury also prevented Alexander Mogilny from making an unexpected return. Lemieux, of course, is the most surprising addition to the game Sunday. When he said goodbye to the NHL in 1997, a comeback did not appear likely. That all changed Dec. 27 when the superstar-turned Pittsburgh Penguins owner ended his 3 1/2-year retirement to return to the ice. An All-Star game appearance became inevitable, and the 35-year-old center will be the captain of the North American team. “I was a little bit surprised,” said Lemieux, not even an assistant captain for the Penguins. “I have not played in that many games. It’s truly an honor.” Now that he will be there, don’t expect Lemieux to go unnoticed. He has won the game’s MVP award three times, scored a record six points in 1988 and is second with 11 career goals and 20 career points in eight games. Lemieux has 16 goals and 16 assists in his first 16 games, but he will miss a chance to go up against Penguins captain Jagr, who was forced to withdraw Friday because of a head injury. The Czech right wing, the World team star who led All-Star voting three of the last four years, experienced dizziness and a headache after he was rammed into the boards Wednesday night by Philadelphia’s Todd Fedoruk. When he played in last year’s game in Toronto, Hasek was in the middle of an injury-plagued season, which he had announced would be his last. But the five-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie was not ready to call it a career that way. So the Czech goalie returned to the Buffalo Sabres and was voted as a World team starter — the fourth straight year he has won the goalie election for his squad. Last year, the World team beat North America 9-4, the first time it was able to win in the three years the NHL has used this format. The idea was started in 1998, just before NHL players first appeared in the Olympics. Fleury, six times an All-Star during his Western Conference days, joined the New York Rangers last season, the worst of his career. After scoring only 15 goals, the right wing rebounded with 29 goals and 38 assists in 53 games this season and was voted to start. “I thought I’d get back there for sure,” said Fleury, who has four All-Star goals. “I never thought I had 150,000 fans that actually would vote for me.” Florida’s Pavel Bure will be back to try to defend his MVP performance of a year ago when he scored three goals and assisted on another. He was to join fellow Russians Mogilny, who resurrected his career with New Jersey, and Sergei Fedorov, the Detroit Red Wing playing his first All-Star game since 1996. Mogilny, however, had to pull out because of an injured hip. The three were linemates on the Soviet team that won the gold medal at the 1989 World Championships. The host Colorado Avalanche are well represented, with a total of four starters in the game. Sweden’s Peter Forsberg will be the starting center on the World side, opposing center Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, who will be the first-period goalie for North America. Defenseman Ray Bourque will be making his 19th appearance, second to Gordie Howe’s 23, and first since he was dealt to the Avalanche from the Bruins last season. The 40 year-old veteran, in his 22nd NHL season, spent his entire career in Boston before the March deal. Anaheim forward Paul Kariya and St. Louis defenseman Pronger round out those voted to start for North America. Pronger, last season’s NHL MVP, is unable to play because of knee surgery. For the World, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, a Swede, and Carolina’s Sandis Ozolinsh, a Latvian, will be the starting defensive pair. Montreal, Calgary, Nashville, the New York Islanders, and the two expansion clubs, Columbus and Minnesota, did not have a player selected.